Las Vegas, NV - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle have done Vegas right.
They're 19- and 22-years-old, rising NHL stars with blindingly bright careers strikingly similar to Sin City's one-of-a-kind evening skyline. What could be better than making a trip to Vegas to go up against their peers in a summertime celebration of the season that was?
We had the answer. And we made sure it'd be the highlight. Joined by Joffrey Lupul, John-Michael Liles and Pavel Datsyuk, RNH and Eberle hopped in a stretch limousine departing from the Wynn Hotel and Resort to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway -- a quick, 20-minute drive in the extreme desert heat.
At around 1:00pm, our convoy arrived at the speedway. Mistakenly so, we stopped at the Exotic Racing building outside the track and were promptly redirected elsewhere -- inside, where the considerably more expensive Ferrari F430s were waiting. Nice surprise!
(As a lifelong racing [NASCAR] fan, even as a spectator, I had to contain my excitement. Just the thought of a $500,000 machine revving at high RPMs had me speechless.)
|"We make this look good." |
|Eberle's dream machine. |
Once inside, the players signed waiver forms and sat in on a 30-minute preamble, which included a quick run on the course simulator. Next up, the real deal.
You always dream about a slow motion walk to your car, cool as can be as a dramatic song serenades in the background. In similar style, Liles showed his best(ish) dance moves while Katy Perry's "Wide Awake" played over the speakers on the drivers' pedway.
I'm pretty sure I saw the others mouthing along. Hey, it's a catchy tune. Or something.
Nugent-Hopkins was the star, ripping up the course with authority and busting down the straightaways with a speed in excess of 150mph. Eberle wasn't too bad, either, but nearly stalling his manual transmission in the pit certainly sparked a laugh among the highly entertained tour guides.
"It was a lot of fun," RNH said later in the evening. "The instructor really helped me out and kept telling me to push it, push it, push it. He always wanted me to pass guys, too, so it was a lot of fun."
Had he ever done anything like that before?
"Not even close. The closest thing would be go-kart racing.
"Did you see us shake and bake out there? Slingshot, engage."
"You get out there and are a little nervous at the start because you're not used to the speed," Eberle added. "But once you get used to it, the instructors are really good and it felt like the car was going to go upside down over because you're going so fast. It's amazing how those cars can handle and the speed they have."
At 2:30pm, we were all whisked back into the limo to make a 3:00pm media availability back at the Wynn. Held in a room where the league's hardware was proudly on display (including the Calder and Lady Byng Trophies), RNH, Eberle and other NHL superstars addressed the media for the next 35 minutes.
But no, there was no time to stop! We had something else lined up -- something where the attire was a little more…constricting.
|"This is tight. This is, like, really tight." |
Across the street at Treasure Island, Cirque du Soleil's Mystere is the highlight show. The highly athletic and entertaining hour-long show sees acrobats wow the audience with a dramatic plot, accompanied by awe-inspiring acts high above the stage.
It takes grace, patience and the proper physique to even come close to replicating the professionals' stunning skill-set.
So, naturally, we put the Oilers to the test.
"I went to a Cirque du Soleil show the other day (‘O' at the Bellagio), so it's pretty incredible to watch the pros and see what they go through. It was a lot of fun," Nugent-Hopkins said.
Once they were dressed the show's elegant (and ridiculously tight) green and pink one-piece leotard, it was go time.
"My Halloween costume was the Green Men from Vancouver, so it's pretty similar. Me and Hallsy (Taylor Hall) wore that, so I'm accustomed to the tightness," Eberle laughed.
In a training room one story above the stage, two poles rising 30-feet into the air and connecting the roof above awaited RNH and Eberle's arrival. You see, in Cirque's Mystere, pole-walking and seemingly impossible side-to-side maneuvering is the theme.
First up, they needed to walk up a couple steps -- not a problem.
"The workouts that we do (at Rexall Place) help us prepare for climbing poles," said the Rookie of the Year candidate.
Then came the real challenge. Try incorporating some spins, leaps, pas de bourrees and naughty, Mick Jagger-like finger wags into the mix. It was quite a sight -- impossible to look away.
Just as they did on the track, Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle killed it. Prior to starting, No. 14 quipped that he'd hoped to earn a starring role in the show with a stunning debut. Well, I'd say he's at least in the conversation now.
"The core strength [is impressive]," he said. "A lot of it had to do with lifting your legs up and balancing. Hockey plays have a lot of it, but nothing even close to what these guys do. I think you can really appreciate it when you watch it."
In covering the Oilers and the NHL, you never know what's going to happen next. If you'd told me my assignment would have included this back in October, I'd have said you're crazy.
And now I'm going to bed with the image of those bright, skin-tight leotards burned in my mind.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick